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Nakba-denial: whitewashing Zionist crimes

Remember the old days, before the Oslo accords, when we all knew what it meant to be pro-Palestinian? In those days, there was barely any disagreement on what should be the aim of the struggle: one democratic state for all, that makes no distinction on the basis of ethnicity or religion, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes. Automatically, this formula entailed that the Zionist state that grants exclusivity to Jews must be dismantled, and replaced by one government that represents all inhabitants of historic Palestine.

Nowadays, there are those who have given a new meaning to the concept of being ‘pro-Palestinian’. It now encompasses those who believe that Palestinians should have their own state only in the West Bank and Gaza, those who hold the Zionist state in high esteem but criticize its ongoing colonization efforts through settlement expansion, and even those whose only position is that Palestinians deserve a higher level of self-determination, not statehood. It now includes those who recognize the state of ‘Israel’ within the undeclared ‘borders of 1967’, and turn a blind eye to what happened in 1948 during the creation of the Zionist state. These, and various other forms of Nakba-denial are so widespread that many of these views are nowadays seemingly being accepted in the ranks of pro-Palestine movements as legitimate.

Nakba? Yes we did it, just not thorough enough

In the nineties, the Israeli ‘New Historians’ publicly challenged and belied the official Israeli version of history based on famous myths like ‘a land without people for a people without land’, Zionists having ‘made the desert green’ and Palestinians having ‘voluntarily left Palestine after being called upon to do so by Arab leaders’. These myths contradicted each other and were impossible to maintain. Benny Morris, one of these New Historians, acknowledged the historical fact that the expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians (the Nakba) was the direct result of Zionist aggression, hereby smashing to pieces all the existing founding myths of the Zionist state. However, although admitting that this was an act of ethnic cleansing, his view was that the Zionists should have done a more thorough job at it, and should have expelled all Palestinians in one go.
Benny Morris

These were the first historical cracks in the firmly established mainstream Western view based on Nakba-denial. Extensive Palestinian efforts at debunking Zionist myths and lies in the preceding decades had not effectively reached a critical mass of Western thinkers, but the revelations of the New Historians had a much stronger effect. This illustrates the deep-rooted Orientalism that haunts the ranks of Westerners, including those who engage in pro-Palestine activism. Still, it does not explain why Nakba-denial remains widespread, despite the nowadays obvious and rarely disputed Zionist responsibility for the massive ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Recognition of the Zionist state and Nakba-denial

First and foremost, there is a Palestinian factor involved that we cannot deny. The Oslo-process and the inherent recognition of the Zionist state must be seen as one of the main factors that feed Nakba-denial among those who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Some Palestinians - indeed, those who are considered to be their representatives - apparently are willing to cover up the ethnic cleansing of ‘48-Palestine by recognizing the Zionist entity that emerged from that massive crime. Therefore, it should not be wondered at that people in the West who were brainwashed with the tenets of the Zionist dream, but at the same time abhor the human rights violations of the occupation, embrace this quisling Palestinian Authority as a ‘voice of reason’ when it calls for a two-state ‘solution’.

Their drive may well be to protect ‘Israel’ not only from the efforts of anti-Zionists, but also from being at odds with the principles of International Law, especially from mainstream interpretations of it. There is no international recognition for the annexation of Jerusalem, nor for the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.

This is how ‘Soft Zionism’ enters the ranks of the anti-occupation champions, which is the other leading cause of the continued presence of Nakba-denial among critics of the Zionist state. These do not necessarily seek justice, but they seek a ‘solution’ that grants ‘Israel’ a stabilized and recognized existence in the Middle East. Many of these champions have a Jewish background, such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, and enjoy a popularity of rock-star proportions among Western anti-occupation activists. But is this the Palestinian cause?

Perhaps rephrasing the question makes things even clearer. Is the Palestinian cause the same cause as opposing the Israeli occupation?

Opposing the occupation, yet denying the Nakba

Let’s take a quick look at the reality of the Palestinian people. The majority of Palestinians in the world are expelled and banished, not occupied. The root of the tragedy is the Nakba, not the occupation. In fact, the occupation of 1967 is merely an extension of that same Nakba, which was given the name ‘Naksa’ (‘setback’), although this terminology is rarely used nowadays. It was considered a setback in the ongoing struggle against a Zionist entity that only came into being by the violent expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians, the destruction of over 450 villages, and the expropriation of vast tracts of lands. The fact that this Nakba is an ongoing process is illustrated by 
the continuing expropriation of Palestinian land by settlement expansion, destruction of Palestinian farmland, and the Judaization of Jerusalem with its ethnic cleansing tactics that force Jerusalemite Palestinians out of the city and its surrounding villages.

The essence of Nakba-denial is therefore not merely a matter of either refuting or acknowledging the historical facts of it. Since the nineties, the discussion has moved way beyond that, although Zionist demagogues often still dig into the old historical lies at times when they feel their audience is so ill-informed that they can get away with it. After all, don’t they say: “if you can’t convince them, confuse them”?

Recognition of the Zionist state in itself is a less explicit but no less blatant form of Nakba-denial, not necessarily by denying the historical crime itself, but by accepting its consequences before demanding any punishment, retribution, or rectification. This is how those who walk this road find their hands stained with the blood of the victims of the Nakba, and with the complicity of plain and straight land theft and ethnic cleansing. This is why a Nakba-denier cannot be considered a true champion of the Palestinian cause, for the simple reason that you cannot be part of the crime and part of the campaign against the crime at the same time.

Those who recognize ‘Israel’, a racist expansionist state which has not declared its borders, and that still has not recognized the rights of the Palestinians, must not be given credit for their so-called pro-Palestinian efforts. They may call themselves ‘pragmatists’, but in reality they are the enablers of Zionism, even if some among them don’t realize this themselves. Their efforts stand in the way of the right of millions of expelled Palestinians scattered across the world to return to their homeland. If you are selective in your pro-Palestinianism based on where Palestinians are living today, while you know that most of them have been forced out of their land, you cannot claim to be a champion of justice, nor a champion of the Palestinian people.

Chomsky, romanticizing Zionism and Nakba-denial

Those who mistakenly empower voices like those of Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, bypass the fact that their amplification of these voices effectively muffles the call of millions of Palestinians worldwide who demand justice, and the return to their homeland. What makes a Palestinian voice less worthy than a ‘progressive Jewish’ voice? Didn’t the anti-Apartheid movement against the racism of South Africa do their best to empower the voices of oppressed blacks? Did you catch them showcasing white dissidents all over the world? No, the world was made aware of the impressive black voices against Apartheid, and was in awe at them. However, when it comes to the Jewish version of Apartheid, the victims are not given this prerogative.
Noam Chomsky

An example of what may happen when you give too much credit to Chomskyism, is given by Chomsky’s own comments in a 2011 interview with Independent Jewish Australian Voices. In this interview he comments on his past as a Zionist Youth organizer. In a typical display of whitewashing Zionism, he contends that “until 1942 there was no official commitment of Zionist organizations to a Jewish state. And even that was in the middle of World War II.” You don’t even need to be a scientist or historian to see through this blatant nonsense. Excuse me? The founding father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, named his book “Der Judenstaat” (The Jewish State) - because he wasn’t sure that he envisaged a Jewish state?
Golda Meir

Do you find any mention of the Nakba or other Zionist atrocities in the interview? Does it also seem to you that he eventually blames 'Palestinian nationalism' for destroying his sweet dream of a bi-national federalist state, which he makes seem as if it was the desired direction the new ‘Israel’ was heading towards? How does this ridiculous distortion of reality stand up against the fact that in those same years, Israeli prime minister Golda Meir was saying: "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people... It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn't exist"? Is this the Chomsky so many friends of Palestine celebrate as a champion?

To me, as a Palestinian, this interview reads as a horrific rape of history. If it had been signed ‘Shimon Peres’, no one would have noticed the difference. You will find that this type of romanticizing Zionism draws attention away from the carefully planned ethnic cleansing and the ethno-religious exclusivism that lies at the root of the Zionist dream. Giving this misleading twist to history is an inexcusable form of Nakba-denial, in that it makes it seem as if the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was a tragic and unfortunate course of events, rather than the result of a long-planned strategy by an ideology based on racist tenets.

End Orientalism, oppose Nakba-denial

It is time to oppose Nakba-denial loudly and vocally, in all of its forms. It is time to empower the voices of Palestinians who have not given up on their inalienable rights. It is time to replace fake pragmatism by genuine calls for justice, and oppose or at least ignore those who seek to create and propagate acceptance and recognition for Zionism.

Empowering non-Palestinian voices while muffling those of diaspora and other Palestinians is a form of Orientalism that contradicts any claims of aiming for equal rights. Before equal rights can be established in any political framework, they must be part and parcel of the ideological fabric of those who are championing them. What sense does it make to prefer ‘progressive’ Jewish voices over Palestinian voices, and still claim that your aim is to establish equal rights?

Sympathy for those Palestinians who are imprisoned in their own land and denied their independence and self-determination, is simply not enough. The Right of Return is the heart of the Palestinian cause, tied in as it is with the sanguineous birth of the Zionist state.

It is wonderful that we find so many people jumping on the barricades when the Zionist state spews its hateful and deadly violence upon the population of Gaza, who have no shelters to hide in and no anti-aircraft artillery to defend themselves. This solidarity is highly appreciated. However, let us not forget that the majority of those living in Gaza are refugees, expelled by the Zionists who took their homes and their lands. They are not only the victims of today’s Israeli violence; they are victims of the Nakba. If you really care about their quest for justice, stand behind them without denying, belittling, or whitewashing the original crime that put them where they are in the first place. The Palestinian cause has no room for Nakba-deniers.
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